When corporate counsel seek creative solutions to legal matters, small and medium-size boutique law firms are in a unique position to help them meet their goals, especially when a boutique’s culture is to embrace new technology within the legal industry.
Building a Better Mousetrap
Earlier this year, at Tanenbaum Keale, we discussed in a brainstorming session of sorts the value of a cloud-based common calendaring system.
Initially, the thought was, do we need this? After all, we had strong calendaring practices in place. We asked some questions around the firm and discovered an opportunity to better connect with our clients. In fact, one of our Client Relationship Partners, James Keale, related to us, “Our clients often express to us a desire to receive certain types of periodic status reports in areas such as settlement status, scheduling or case management.” We saw this topic as a new opportunity.
Why Technology Improves the Client Experience
Keale further conveyed that, at times, clients asked him about other solutions using our Xerdict subsidiary to help track and manage litigation information. With that knowledge in hand, we sprang into action. A small team of cross-functional employees, operations folks, technologists and attorneys, got together to discuss alternatives. As Keale noted, “We at TK have learned many times over that innovative technology frequently allows corporate counsel and boutique firms to foster a closer working relationship in a number of ways. This was just another example.”
To build on that thought, it’s pretty much common knowledge nowadays that, when working on legal matters, attorneys often need the flexibility to access information while working remotely, from multiple office locations and, at times, at any time of the day or night. Technology that allows remote access to information for both corporate counsel and outside counsel is crucial to maintaining the necessary levels of productivity and resolving matters in an effective and efficient manner for all involved.
Deciding to construct a common calendar system to track deadlines, appearances, depositions and the like seemed to be a no-brainer. But how should the information be shared with our client? In terms of process, one advantage we have, like all boutique firms, was the benefit of fewer layers of management, committees and review processes as compared to larger firms. This structure provides boutique firms the unique opportunity to quickly kick-start projects designed to whip up a “farm-to-table” type of technology dish, tasty enough to satisfy the palates of even the most discerning corporate clients. Since time is always limited on tech projects, and limiting scope to stay on budget is vital, having the right sized working groups and technology in place can assure that resources are designated in a productive manner. Small, nimble implementation teams are positioned at the epicenter of a boutique firm’s wheelhouse. That structure helped us with this need, there is no doubt about that.
On this project, we determined that cloud-based technology was a perfect tactic for improving the client experience. We could not only collectively track and summarize the calendaring needs, but we could share various dates and information with our client and their stakeholders (i.e., local trial counsel, expert witnesses) in one fell swoop. A decision was made to consolidate the firm’s calendaring data, organized using several coded document metadata fields such as client, deadline, meeting type, etc., to all necessary employees of the firm, in a platform also suitable for cross-organizational interaction.
In this case, like many others, cloud-based technology allows for corporate counsel and outside counsel to collaborate, securely share information, and make continuing progress on legal matters. The technology can also provide secure storage, improved security, and bottom-line cost savings since boutique firms no longer need to purchase and manage infrastructure such as servers and pricey software licenses. In addition, cloud-based technology makes it easy for firms to shift from tool to tool in order to meet varying needs as client requirements evolve.
Boutique Firms Embrace Technology
Due to their size and entrepreneurial spirit, boutique firms are typically nimble and can quickly implement and adopt new technologies—both tactically and culturally. Boutique firms can provide better client service and more cost-effective pricing because the firms are innovative in their adoption of technology and the presence of pay-as-you-go models in the cloud. Some examples of how boutique firms are using technology include:
- When clients approach a boutique firm to store data, the firm can, due to the efficiencies and turnkey architecture provided by a cloud platform provider such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, quickly deploy a professional grade, secure repository for our client’s information.
- When corporate counsel needs review platforms and the associated artificial intelligence and advanced data organization capabilities needed to process data, a lean law firm can shift gears and select the vendor best positioned to assist in a specific project need.
- When a boutique firm has an opportunity to offer unique services, any review, vetting or funding decisions can be streamlined, meaning a client need is met in timely fashion.
When Niche Meets Innovation
Smaller, leaner firms can be better positioned in helping corporate counsel meet their challenges in niche areas of the law, and that ability is strengthened when they utilize innovative technology to their advantage. Not unlike skilled lawyers in a certain niche or market segment, technology can aid in driving the client experience and contribute greatly in the pursuit of successful outcomes. In today’s environment, it is fair that corporate counsel should expect rapid deployments of tailored tech offerings to meet legal industry challenges.
To sum up, lean boutique firms can provide a high level of service within a specific area of law at a moderate cost. Typically, the senior partners of a boutique firm are highly experienced attorneys who have spent years in practice—usually at larger firms—developing their knowledge and competencies in a certain niche area of law, and they can attract top talent for a staff of well-trained lawyers who also are narrowly focused on that niche. The use of innovative technology helps make lean boutique firms with a depth of knowledge in a niche area a smart choice as outside counsel.
Lean Means Faster and More Efficient
Boutique firms can use their small size to great advantage. With a leaner staff and fewer decision-makers, firms in this class are poised to be first out of the blocks whenever a client calls, due to their easier review and approval processes. Boutique firms do not require the layers of approval common to a larger law firm. These agile firms can quickly make changes or updates to their processes and technologies as client needs change and new clients come on board. And project costs are often slashed as well—less time evaluating and more time implementing leads to better outcomes with less overhead and fluff.
Kenneth E. Jones is Chief Technologist at Tanenbaum Keale in Newark.